AIN Special Reports

Pilot Report: Quest Kodiak

 - September 9, 2017, 7:44 AM
AIN editor Nigel Moll puts the float-approved turboprop through its paces on the Finger Lakes in Central New York. The amphib is in its element charging through chop on the water or in the air. (Photo: Nigel Moll)

Quest Aircraft bills the Kodiak as the “next generation of STOL aircraft capable of bringing services and heavy supplies to the most remote regions on the planet,” and the Idaho-based manufacturer has built 222 since the sturdy turboprop single was certified in 2007.

“Third generation” would be accurate too, in that the Cessna Caravan dates to the early 1980s. The first generation would be the Pilatus Porter (340 hp)/Turbo Porter (550 shp) and Helio Courier (295 to 400 hp). In the context of the Kodiak, the Helio seems particularly noteworthy because both it and the Kodiak were designed originally to serve missionary pilots flying on and off short, narrow strips carved out of some of the harshest terrain on the planet. Indeed, the Kodiak’s 45-foot wing span (seven feet shorter than the Caravan’s) was dictated by the 50-foot width of many strips carved out of jungle.

In the years since it was designed, the Kodiak has caught on with a market beyond the missionary mission but for the same reasons: short takeoff (less than 1,000 feet at max weight) and landing; an emphasis on safety not just by careful attention to aerodynamic and structural design but also in the choice of Garmin’s onboard systems; versatility in a roomy cabin; and the efficiency and reliability of a single PT6 turboprop in the nose for copious power on widely available jet fuel and range of 1,000 nm with wheeled gear. For the GA market, Quest defines the Kodiak as the machine to satisfy the need for lift between a business jet—speedy but needy in the runway department—and a helicopter (land anywhere but complex and don’t plan on carrying a ton of bulky stuff).

This summer Quest launched the Kodiak amphibian on a North American tour. Flown by company marketing director and lead demo pilot Mark Brown, accompanied by his fiancée, FlightSafety second-in-command and contract corporate pilot Ashley Atkinson, the airplane dropped by my home on Skaneateles Lake in Central New York. For Quest the purpose of the stop here was two-fold: demonstrate the airplane to this magazine for a pilot report and also to my good friend and neighbor Tony, who likes the look of the Kodiak as a possible replacement for not only his IO-720-powered Helio 800 amphib but also the “family Winnebago,” a PA-31-310 Navajo. The allure of one PT6 versus 20 cylinders is a powerful persuader.

During a stint in the cabin of the Kodiak while Tony was in the left seat, I could almost see cogs turning in his mind as he contemplated the possibilities opened by the smooth whistling hum up front and the big screens delivering anything he could ever wish to know about the task at hand. The contrast with his mildly updated ’60s- and ’80s-vintage fleet was stark.

Flying The Kodiak

Faced with scaling the big Aerocet carbon-fiber floats and their struts to board the Kodiak amphibian through the front left pilot door, I’m struck by the notion that this is a large flying machine to have swooped into little Skaneateles Aerodrome (6B9) and its two 3,000-foot runways—one grass, one blacktop. The pilot’s eyeline when seated is not much shy of 10 feet up—about where it is in a 727.

The cockpit exudes quality: the high-contrast white-on-black design, the sturdy switches, the leather-wrapped control wheel and the hefty black lumps of milled aluminum through which the control shafts disappear into the panel, the absence of plastic pretty much everywhere except knobs and buttons. This is the pilot’s everyday interface with the machine, and it conveys a solidity that is borne out when the airplane is in its element charging through chop on the water or in the air.

The three-screen Garmin G1000 suite dominates the panel. (Photo: Nigel Moll)

Before starting the PT6 you need to make sure both overhead fuel selectors are on. With just one engine, there’s no provision for transferring fuel from one tank to the other. If the airplane is parked on a slope with both selectors on, fuel will migrate to the downhill wing, so you turn them both on before start as part of the preflight.

Beyond that, the process is simple and requires little more than keeping the usual sharp eye out for a temperature spike during the process: fuel pump on, igniters on, hold the starter down to low throughout the sequence. At 15-percent NG, introduce fuel, monitor ITT and NG and at 54-percent NG let the starter go, having reached a peak temp of typically 680 deg C in this airplane. The green arc extends a couple of hundred degrees C beyond that. “It’s a really cool-starting engine,” observed Brown. Igniters off, fuel pump to standby, aux bus on, generator and alternator on, prop to max rpm, “and then I’ll set 20 degrees of flap right after that because that’s the setting for every takeoff,” added Brown.

My first takeoff was from the hard runway at Skaneateles Aerodrome: advance the power to the top of the green on the screen, start to get the weight off the nosewheels at 55 knots, and it wants to start flying at between 60 and 65 knots. Once airborne, establish 10 degrees pitch and look for 85 knots for the climb over obstacles before bringing the flaps in to 10 degrees and the prop back to 2000 rpm from the 2200 rpm used on takeoff. “Power is the same at 2000 rpm and 2200 but there’s less noise inside and out at 2000,” said Brown.

“The nice thing about the Garmin setup is that as long as everything stays green we’re within our allotted limit,” he continued. “The yellow arc on the ITT and torque gauges is the 700- to 750-shp range, so it depends on the conditions of the day (density altitude) whether you’ll torque out first or temp out first.” The full 750 shp for takeoff can be used for five minutes and then you have to bring the power lever back into the green arc. If you stray beyond the yellow power arc on takeoff and climb you get an aural alert as well as a bright warning on the PFD that you have overpowered the engine.

Even with the headset lifted away from the ears momentarily, the noise level inside the Kodiak is low, thanks in part to inflatable door seals that are standard equipment and inflate automatically when the master switch is turned on. The quality in the cabin continues the standard set in the cockpit. Leather is standard for all seating packages. The aircraft flown for this report had the mid-range Timberline interior with four forward-facing passenger seats in the cabin, slip-resistant flooring under removable carpet, eight passenger headset jacks and PSU vents and reading lights. The Summit interior is the top offering, providing more comfortable and versatile seating with three-point harnesses in a club configuration with two fold-out tables, two cabinets with removable ice bins and Thermos provisions, carpet, overhead air and lighting and oxygen and charging ports at each seat and an optional sixth passenger seat; this is the choice for an airplane destined for business or family use. Tundra is more of a commuter style, offering no carpet but instead a floor protected by a layer of rubber compound, no ultrasuede sidewalls and fewer amenities, but it still has leather seats (four in the cabin), each removable in about 30 seconds and stowable for conversion between passenger and cargo ops. Both the Timberline and Tundra passenger seats have four-point safety harnesses.

view out window
The steep sides of narrow and deep Skaneateles Lake dominate the view through the windshield. (Photo: Nigel Moll)

My first water takeoff in the Kodiak was to the south at the south end of Skaneateles Lake, whose steep sides create something of a canyon in this area. The airplane felt solid with application of power and back pressure on the wheel, which got the water moving beneath the floats. Soon enough, some relaxation on the wheel put the airplane on the step and set us accelerating toward liftoff at 60 knots or so and climbing strongly with five people on board and a light fuel load. The amphibian’s book takeoff performance on water at max weight shows a run of 1,000 feet taking 20 seconds.

A gentle right turn toward the densely treed western slope of the canyon positioned the airplane to make a climbing left turn at 80 knots across the narrow valley and toward the equally treed eastern slope as we headed north back to the Aerodrome. The Kodiak’s “discontinuous leading edge” wing design came into play in this maneuvering. The outboard, tapered section of each wing has a fixed leading edge that protrudes forward and down in relation to the inboard leading edge, an arrangement that retains full aileron control at low speeds—even sub-stall in a corner where other airplanes could be inclined to spin. It makes for handling that inspires confidence at times when your instincts are buzzing because you know you’re asking a lot of the wings at low speed.

The Kodiak is certified under the Part 23 standards that were in effect when Quest submitted its application in the early 2000s. Quest asserts that the Kodiak has “more than 1,000 safety enhancements that our competition does not have,” citing the seats (dynamically sled-tested to 26 g rather than just drop-tested to 9 g); flammability requirements for the entire airframe, firewall to cargo bay (not just in passenger areas); more stringent lightning-strike protections; and successful demonstration of post-takeoff engine failure at 50 feet.

The Kodiak also lays claim to being the first turboprop to have the full Garmin GFC 700 autopilot package with the level option. “We call it the level switch,” said Brown, “and it’s a standard safety feature. If you get disoriented at night or in IMC and you don’t have the autopilot on, flipping the level switch brings you back to straight and level.” The Garmin suite is a three-screen G1000 with two PFDs and one MFD. Each PFD runs off its own pitot-static and ADHRS, no different from a Part 25 airplane. Optional TKS anti-ice is certified for flight into known icing with wheeled landing gear but not with floats; the tank holds 16.3 gallons of fluid, good for about 2.5 hours at normal flow.

Versatile Vehicle

The Kodiak is game for many missions. Brazil’s National Skydiving Center, 70 miles from São Paulo, uses the Kodiak to take 15 jumpers to 12,000 feet in 9.5 minutes. Botswana’s Ministry of the Environment uses the airplane to monitor wildlife, conduct search-and-rescue, deliver equipment and deter poaching, loitering for up to 9.9 hours with three crew. In Japan, the Bella Vista Spa & Marina smoothed out the “last mile” by introducing Kodiak amphibian service to bring incoming guests from Hiroshima Airport. The amphib has a useful load of about 2,630 pounds. Flown by one pilot (175 pounds), the resort’s amphib can carry three couples and their bags (1,350 pounds) to the resort in 15 minutes, eliminating a 90-minute bus ride. Book max cruise speed for the amphib is 162 ktas. Key numbers for the tricycle-gear wheeled airplane: 174 ktas cruise at 12,000 feet for a max range of 1,005 nm/5.8 hours at 45 gph/301 pph with the full 320 gal/2,144 pounds of fuel.

land takeoff
The Kodiak amphibian launches off the 3,000-foot hard runway at Skaneateles Aerodrome on sturdy sea legs. Pod-mounted weather radar is optional. (Photo: Nigel Moll)

Missionary and humanitarian aid, the role the Kodiak’s designers had in mind at the outset, continues to feature in the airplane’s résumé. It served with Samaritan’s Purse and Mission Aviation Fellowship affiliate Alas de Socorro del Ecuador in the aftermath of the 7.8 earthquake in a remote coastal region of Ecuador last year.

Befitting an airplane with so many roles, the list of options is substantial. An external cargo compartment (ECC) mounted on the belly can carry 750 pounds and handle loading of 65 pounds per square foot at a cost of only one or two knots in cruise speed. The ECC also allows repositioning the TKS alcohol tank from the cockpit to the nose of the belly pod. Fitting 29-inch tires takes the max landing weight to the 7,255-pound mtow. For operations on floats, the pitch latch propeller option allows the prop to remain in fine pitch when the engine is shut down. When the engine is started with the blades in fine pitch, forward thrust is available sooner—important when there’s wind or current and obstructions close by. Optional 10-place oxygen replaces the standard 50-cu-ft two-place bottle with a 115-cu-ft composite bottle and ports for eight passengers. Air conditioning is optional. Standard on all Kodiaks, though, is the big cargo door (49 inches by 49 inches) on the left side of the aft fuselage providing outsize access to the 248 cubic feet of cabin volume with all but the pilot’s seat removed.

When you compare the Aerocet amphib Kodiak with the standard wheeled model, the versatility of the amphib floats comes at a price on all fronts: $400,000 higher sticker because the Aerocet carbon-fiber floats are the world’s primo pontoons, 400 pounds (two people) lighter than their metal equivalent; an operating weight empty 1,030 pounds higher; and a max cruise speed 21 ktas slower. But that’s the cost of equipping the Kodiak to walk on water and land, an attribute that expands the utility of this impressive airplane and also, by huge measure, the fun it can provide.